Friday, December 21, 2012

Burgess Bedtime Stories 1958

The Stories

January 1 to January 16. (continued from 1957) Pekan the Fisher chases Spite the Marten through the treetops. Then Glutton the Wolverine destroys a trapper's cabin. And chases away a Puma.

January 17 to January 27. Peter Rabbit accuses Jimmy Skunk of killing Johnny Chuck.

January 28 to February 3. Bobby Coon wakes up from his long sleep just in time to meet Polly Chuck, who has no idea how long the winter will last. They both go back to sleep. (She saw her shadow.)

February 4 to February 14. Peter Rabbit reflects on the nature of predator-prey relationships after he sees an owl kill a mouse. Then he finds the Smiling Pool to be a lonesome place until Starnose the Mole and Mourning Cloak appear.

February 15 to March 5. The foxes use Prickly Porky to stop a pursuing dog.

March 6 to March 8. Peter Rabbit discovers a sign of spring--buds are sweet.

March 10 to March 25. Johnny Chuck has fun with Reddy Fox but Flip the Terrier chases him up a tree. And Redtail the Hawk (who sees owls nesting in his old nest) is in the area. 

March 26 to March 31. Welcome Robin and Old Mr. Toad are glad to be able to find earthworms again.

April 1 to May 15. Bob White envies Ol' Mistah Buzzard's soaring ability. Then Bob and Mrs. Bob must try to protect their eggs and chicks from predators. Meanwhile Mrs. Bob and Mrs. Grouse argue about the best place to raise children.

May 16 to June 7. The other chipmunks display prejudice against Little Black Chippy. He commiserates with Blacky the Crow and learns to defend himself. 

June 9 to June 14. Old Mr. Toad is dismayed at Grandfather Frog's cannibalism and gluttony (he successfully catches and eats a careless young sparrow), particularly when it causes other animals (e.g., a child of Teeter the Spotted Sandpiper) to misjudge toads.

June 16 to July 14. Peter Rabbit insists on visiting Farmer Brown's garden, despite the warnings of Mrs. Peter and finds himself trapped in a roll of wire netting and pursued by Reddy Fox and Redtail the Hawk. Farmer Brown's boy eventually sets him free.

July 15 to August 9. Nimbleheels the Jumping Mouse squabbles with Danny Meadow Mouse, wins a jumping contest against Peter Rabbit, and springs right over the head of Reddy Fox. Then Nimbleheels the (meadow) Jumping Mouse meets Little Jumper the (woodland) Jumping Mouse and later Little Jumper meets Jumper the Hare. 

August 11 to August 25. Lots of small folk assemble at the "meeting place" (an old stump) but are scared off when Sammy Jay does his hawk imitation. Then Lightfoot the Deer disagrees with Prickly Porky about the benefit of fear (especially when there is nothing apparent to be afraid of). The smaller animals scorn Lightfoot, a big person, for his fear until he brings up human hunters and dogs.  

August 26 to September 29. Mrs. Timmy the Flying Squirrel moves her babies in the nick of time (blacksnake).  Later her son, Junior, must learn to glide without hurting himself and distrust foxes, raccoons, and weasels. His heedless young brother is killed by Buster Bear. 

September 30 to October 25. Old Mr. Toad must make the dangerous journey back to the garden from the Smiling Pool. Farmer Brown's boy gives him a lift (he is not happy being carried) and Peter Rabbit offends him by comparing him to Grandfather Frog. Meanwhile Peter learns more toad-related facts.

October 27 to October 31. Johnny Chuck is very content and big enough to ward off a fox.

November 1 to November 14. Grouchy the young raccoon must learn the hard way to respect skunks.

November 15 to December 1. Striped Chipmunk must move after Mr Blacksnake discovers his home. Peter Rabbit learns about Chipmunk cheeks. And Lightfoot the Deer attacks Mr. Blacksnake and saves the day.

December 2 to December 14. Who stole Chatterer the Red Squirrel's giant mushroom? (Timmy the Flying Squirrel). 

December 15 to December 31. Blacky and Mrs. Blacky the Crow disagree on how to spend the winter. Blacky remains in the safety of the Green Forest sanctuary while Mrs. Blacky travels with a flock of crows and comes to regret her decision. 


Generally speaking, a look at Burgess's 1958 stories reveals a considerable amount of repetition from previous years, from Glutton's destruction of a trapper's cabin and Nimbleheel's jump over Reddy Fox's head, to Johnny Chuck's display of tree-climbing skill and yet another young animal who must learn to respect a skunk. While Farmer Brown's boy still appeared on the scene to feed animals and to rescue Peter Rabbit and Old Mr. Toad, his role overall remained diminished, and Burgess even had Old Mr. Toad resent the boy's assistance. Burgess's anti-hunting theme, while present, was restricted to very few actual stories (the shooting of crows at the end of the year). There was continued slippage between the season and the story (Mr. Toad surely would not be returning from the Smiling Pool in October) and Burgess even resurrected, from his very earliest stories, the device of a communal meeting between all types of animals, predators and prey, in order to talk about the place of "fear" in the animal world. 

One story line stands out as offering something new--a tale about "Little Black Chippy," a melanistic chipmunk who found himself the object of scorn simply because of the color of his fur.  Burgess had told many stories about the outcast status of albino and melanistic "freaks" previously but "Little Black Chippy" was a pretty clear allegory about racial prejudice. On May 22, Burgess used an aphorism to state the theme explicitly. 
Prejudice is mostly blind;
Being so, is most unkind.
--Old Mother Nature
What Old Mother Nature says is nearly always true. Prejudice is almost always unjust. It usually is the result of making up one's mind without knowing all the facts and seeing only one side of a thing when there may be many sides. Too often prejudice is made up largely of suspicion, and the two, combined, result in injustice.
Little Black Chippy was not only rejected by his fellow chipmunks but by the whole community, even kind-hearted Peter Rabbit.

Even Peter Rabbit wasn't too friendly. It seemed to Peter that if the little Chipmunk's coat was the wrong color there must be something wrong with him himself. So he would have nothing to do with little Black Chippy, although he was one of Striped Chipmunk's best friends. It appeared as if all the neighbors thought that a black one must be a bad one. 
So it was that little Black Chippy tried to keep out of sight as much as he could. As sure as he put his head out from between the stones of the old wall some was sure to scream, "Blacky! Blacky! Blacky!" Then he would dodge back. He was a most unhappy little Chipmunk, made so for no real reason at all. It is too often that way with prejudice.
He eventually met Black the Crow, who knew what it meant to be judged solely on basis of color. 
"I'm looking for a home. No one wants me around where I came from," replied the little Chipmunk. "They don't like me because my coat is black." 
Blacky's sharp eyes twinkled. "They wouldn't. They don't like me because I am black," said he.
"What is the matter with black? Why don't they like black? What difference does color make?" asked the little Chipmunk 
"It doesn't make any difference. Anyway, it shouldn't. We are just the same inside our black coats as if they were not black at all," said Blacky.

Burgess has sometimes been under suspicion for harboring racist attitudes and in his very earliest stories there may be some truth to this, particularly the minstrel show-style songs and humor of Unc' Billy Possum. In fact, Unc' Billy had not been featured in a story since 1950 [he would return briefly in 1959], and in the story of Black Chippy Burgess made it clear where he stood in 1958:
There is nothing in the world so unkind, so silly, so completely wrong as to judge someone else for their color. 

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